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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Where the feedback ends...

Picture this.....

You, like five million other Americans have started a vampire novel. But it's okay, yours is fresh, exciting, one of a kind. It's going to blow the genre apart. It's so good you won't even have to include George Clooney's phone number when you query Miss Snark. But, because you are humble and sweet, you've also joined the local writer's group so that you can get feedback.

Things are going great. The book is progressing nicely. You've finally gotten to the really exciting part where tension is building and your damsel is off to rescue her dragon-errant from the knight's castle. The critique group is giving it rave reviews.

And then it happens.

Around, oh, let's say chapter eleven. You've sent everyone in your group the chapter ahead of time so you can critique when you meet. You get to the meet point early, a little nervous about how people will take the plot twist. Is the dialogs too stilted? Is the action believable? What will they say about the purple bunny slippers?

And in rushes one of your beta-readers. He gapes at you (never reassuring) and says, "Did you know there are vampires in this book?"

You look at the tile: Vampire Prophecy.... "Er, yes?"

"Vampires aren't real," this well-meaning person says. And he goes on to explain how no one believes in vampires. There is no market for vampires. How could you go and throw vampires in chapter eleven like that?

While you try to think of a way to tactfully explain that this is 1) fiction and 2) a vampire story from line one he thrusts a sheaf of photocopies at you....

"It explains the origins of vampires. I knew you'd want to get your facts straight. Obviously this is ridiculous." He waves your beloved manuscript around. "Absolute dreck! No one would ever want to read this. You need to start over."

What do you do?

Do you:
a) rush home, cry, and never write again
b) go home, cry, and write out the vampire and make it a story about purple slippers
c) use all 28 pages of your beautiful manuscript to smack him silly
d) thank him for his input and realize that not everyone is ont he same wavelength

Here's a hint.... D

It doesn't matter how good a critique group is, sometimes you're going to run into people who Just. Don't. Get. It. They don't get your jokes. They don't understand what "fiction" means. They aren't willing to suspend belief and accept FTL travel.

I run into this occasionally (although not to the extent of the fiction above) and it always leaves me a bit gobsmacked. I tend to panic. I'm certain that if one beta-reader hates it something is monstrously wrong and I need to rewrite. And usually that feeling goes away in an hour or so, I try to identify what threw the Critter for a loop, and then decide if it's something I can fix or if it's what the tech people call "user error."

As a writer you have to know that you can't please everyone. Some people will read the story and want to rewrite your hard sci-fi as a gentile historical romance. There will always be someone in your writer's group who is reading to be kind, but doesn't really like the genre and just can't get it. And there will always be that rabid human being out there who, despite your flawless work, will want to insert nonsense just because they can't crub their urge to edit.

Take advice with a grain of salt. If it isn't something you want to read in your novel - don't write it! Don't make the changes unless you think it's right. Thank people for their feedback, smile politely, and do what's right for you. It's your work and in the end you are the only person you need to please with your writing.


  1. So this didn't really happen to you then?
    Sounds like a nightmare which, you're right, can easily be solved with D.
    And the truth is not everyone will love our writing. Just like we don't like everything we read. I love keeping that in mind!

  2. This scenario, no, didn't happen. But I've had Critters realize something mid-book that I thought was blindingly obvious form page one. It scares me when that happens!

  3. As I told you before, Just_me, that critter is a moron. ;)

    I agree that there are people out there who JUST don't get it no matter how hard you try, and need to be ignored....

    I'll freely admit I don't "get" a lot of literary fiction anyway, so when I crit, I tell people that. I don't want to make them change it because I don't get it, of course, but I'll point out I don't read that much and so am probably not the best help. ;)

    That's fine if people say the same thing to me about spec fic, and I completely don't mind. It's when they "just don't get it" and insist you completely change or fix it to suit them, I roll my eyes (metaphorically) and ignore them for being morons. ;)


  4. Exactly, smile politely and back away... It works for rabid dogs *and* rabid critters.

  5. A version of this happened to me. I wrote a story using just about every magical mythological creature in the same world. And one of the critiques I got back was telling me I can't have leprechauns and the Lady of the Lake together in the same story, and didn't I know milk is a better way to bribe faeries than wine? And that is most certainly not the way elves act!

    Needless to say, I didn't respond, but if I did I would have asked for an interview with these creatures since the critter knew them so well, so I could ask them directly. And I also would have pointed out that, it's my story and I can do whatever I want.

  6. :o) And here I was being hypothetical! That's awful!

    Sometimes I think people just want to rewrite your book. They aren't interested in helping you improve your story, they want to make it their story....

    Smile, nod, run away!

  7. So, even though my scenario is far removed from yours, I've found that there are people in general who just don't get the concept of fiction. They'll say, "Hey, why not write about something normal? Something real?" To those people, all I have to say that normal and real are boring. But that's just me. Nice post and story, even if it is hypothetical.